A new study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine has examined the relationship between a male partner’s cognitions and a woman’s experiences with entry dyspareunia.
Specifically, the study focused on male catastrophizing and views of his partner’s self-efficacy. Researchers explored how these two factors influenced his female partner’s pain intensity, sexual function, and sexual satisfaction.
Dyspareunia refers to painful intercourse. Entry dyspareunia occurs when vaginal penetration causes the pain. It is estimated that 21% of women have problems with entry dyspareunia, which can greatly affect quality of life.
The study authors defined catastrophizing as “an exaggerated and negative set of cognitions during real or anticipated painful experiences.” Self-efficacy was defined as “the confidence an individual has in his or her ability to perform a specific task.”
One hundred seventy-nine couples participated in the study. The mean age for the women was 31 years. For the men, it was 33 years. The mean relationship duration was six years. Women reported having pain for a mean of six years.
To assess the couples, the following measures were used:
• Pain Numeric Visual Analog Scale (women’s pain intensity)
• Female Sexual Functioning Index (women’s sexual functioning)
• Global Measure of Sexual Satisfaction (women’s sexual satisfaction)
• Pain Catastrophizing Scale (women’s and partners’ catastrophizing)
• Painful Intercourse Self-Efficacy Scale (women’s and partners’ self-efficacy)
After controlling for the women’s catastrophizing and self-efficacy, the researchers found that the women’s pain was less intense when their partners had higher levels of partner-perceived self-efficacy and lower levels of catastrophizing.
This authors suggest that in the case of couples dealing with entry dyspareunia, a man’s catastrophizing may make a woman more aware of her pain, thus increasing its intensity.
However, partner-perceived self-efficacy and partner catastrophizing did not appear to affect the women’s sexual function or satisfaction.
Many women continue to have sex despite their pain out of concern for their partners, so intercourse could be happening no matter what levels of partner catastrophizing or partner-perceived self-efficacy were present.
The authors also noted that women’s own perceptions of their sexual situation may carry more weight than their partner’s views.
“[Women’s] cognitions about pain (for example their own self-efficacy with regards to pain management and degree of pain catastrophizing) may serve to better explain variation in their sexual experience,” they wrote.
The study results point to the importance of considering the couple’s relationship when treating women with entry dyspareunia.
“Explaining to the couple how they both have a role to play in the experience of entry dyspareunia pain may serve to increase partner implication in treatment, diminish the identified patient’s feelings of guilt, and help in motivation toward change,” they wrote.
The Journal of Sexual Medicine
Lemieux, Ashley J., MA, et al.
“Do Romantic Partners' Responses to Entry Dyspareunia Affect Women's Experience of Pain? The Roles of Catastrophizing and Self-Efficacy”
(Full-text. First published online: June 27, 2013)